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Stephanie Shirley

Brief description of achievement:

Dame Stephanie Shirley (Steve) is responsible for starting innovative charities in the fields of autism and IT. She is behind The Shirley Foundation, among the top 50 grant-giving foundations in the UK which, in the last six years, has awarded more than 50 million worth of grants to charitable causes.

Detailed description:

Steve Shirley arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied child refugee from Germany in 1939, and set up Information Technology Company FI Group in 1962. She retired from the company in 1993 to concentrate more fully on her philanthropic activities.

Steve set up The Kingswood Trust in the 1980s, in part to address the needs of her late son, Giles, an autistic child who could no longer be cared for at home. Steve and her husband realised that they could provide for other young people like Giles and it developed into the Kingswood Trust, which today cares for 28 people with autism.

The Shirley Foundation also supports other autism-linked charities including Autismconnect - the first web-user community dealing with disability issues - and Prior's Court School. Prior's Court was established in 1998 after Steve visited a centre for autistic children in the USA that used an holistic development package, including physical education, with great results. Unable to persuade Government or existing autistic groups to fund a similar school in the UK, Steve resolved to create and fund a UK school through the Shirley Foundation.

Her latest project is Kaspar, an Anglo-American research project that aims to raise 255 million for a virtual medical project to investigate the causes of autism.

"I don't like just writing out cheques. The entrepreneur within me still wants to do something new. Hence, in order to make a difference, my efforts go to pioneer projects that would not otherwise happen and that have the potential to make a strategic impact."

Dame Stephanie Shirley